Wednesday, May 24, 2006
By RAELYNN RICARTE
Hood River News
May 3, 2006
The mood in Hood River Circuit Court was subdued on Monday as a teenager admitted to rape and was sentenced to almost 16 years in prison.
Ruperto Gonzaga-Gama, 18, had chosen not to make a personal appearance at the May 1 plea hearing. Instead, he elected to face the Collins Road victim and her family members from NORCOR over a video screen.
That didn’t stop the victim from directing the Hood River Valley High School junior to look at her while she spoke.
“I really have so many different feelings that I don’t know where to begin. I don’t understand what makes sick people do the things you did,” said the woman, who was sexually assaulted in her home at knifepoint.
She told Gonzaga-Gama in a calm but determined voice that he might have physically prevailed against her during the Feb. 14 attack. However, she said he had underestimated her resolve to hold him accountable for the crime.
“There’s nothing that I can say to you that can ever make any difference. I just hope that you have some idea of what you’ve done and put me and my family through,” she said.
The victim also repeatedly asked Gonzaga-Gama to confess if he had committed any other sexual crime. She was referring to an ongoing investigation that could link the Mexican national to another unsolved rape.
“If you ever have any hope of saving your soul, you’ll admit if you’ve done this to someone else. Because if you don’t answer for it now, you’ll answer for it later,” she said.
District Attorney John Sewell later declined to comment on that investigation. He would neither confirm nor deny if Gonzaga-Gama was a suspect in the January sexual assault of a Markham Road woman.
However, Defense Attorney Brian Starns acknowledged in court on Monday that his client might be facing other charges. For that reason, he advised Gonzaga-Gama not to make any statements beyond admitting his guilt to the four charges against him.
Judge Donald Hull gained the teen’s guilty plea to first-degree rape, burglary and robbery, and to the lesser crime of vehicle theft. He then ordered Gonzaga-Gama to spend 190 months in prison with no time reduction for good behavior. His incarceration will be followed by 50 months of post-prison supervision and registering for life as a sex offender.
Gonzaga-Gama also faces deportation from the United States after serving time behind bars. For that reason, Sewell doubted that he would end up paying the $527.26 ordered by Hull to cover the victim’s medical bills and lost wages.
Prior to sentencing, the victim’s mother delivered a strong statement. She also spoke calmly, but her words were clear — her daughter was a survivor and would overcome the damage caused by Gonzaga-Gama’s actions.
“No jail time could ever, ever let you know how she feels. Someday I hope you get that feeling yourself because someone violates you like you’ve violated my daughter,” she said.
Hull then delivered a terse message of his own.
“Short of unlawfully taking somebody’s life, as far as I’m concerned this is the next worst crime. And to some extent, it’s worse because the victim lives with it the rest of her life,” he said.
“It’s a horrific crime and society needs to be protected from that sort of conduct and from you. I’m surprised at the victim and that she wasn’t angrier. She probably was, but held her anger inside. If I was the victim I would have been screaming at you at the top of my lungs so you could hear me about this outrageous act,” Hull continued.
Sewell appeared pensive throughout the proceedings. He made only one comment about the case to Hull, “Hopefully, the resolution addresses the heinous nature of this crime.”
In a follow-up interview, Sewell commended the victim for her strength of will. He said there was nothing that he could have added to her words in court. He hoped that she could take comfort from knowing that her attacker would be behind bars for most of his young life.
“There’s one thing I can’t do for the victim and that’s turn back the clock. She will have to live with this for years to come — so it seems like an imperfect solution to an egregious wrong,” he said.
Sewell credited the quick and thorough work done by law enforcement officials for the success of the case. Within 15 minutes after the victim called 9-1-1, Gonzaga-Gama was located sitting in her stolen car.
Sheriff Joe Wampler spotted the SUV and the suspect behind a farm shed along Imai Road during an aerial patrol of the area. He then radioed that location to Oregon State Patrol Troopers, Sheriff’s Deputies and Police Officers, who immediately converged on the scene.
Sewell said the combined work of the local law enforcement agencies gave him enough DNA and physical evidence to gain the guilty plea.
Gonzaga-Gama entered the victim’s unlocked home on Valentine’s Day and then raped her before tying her up and leaving in the family vehicle. While in the residence, he also stole her children’s Xbox and video games, which were later recovered.
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